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Panel fails to end red tape

Paperwork and emails are still piling up despite body's promise to reduce them. Felicity Waters reports

Schools in Wales are still being bombarded with paperwork 12 months after a bureaucracy-busting body was set up to reduce red tape.

The school workload advisory panel (SWAP) was created as part of an agreement to reduce pressures on teachers, and has spent its first year working with Assembly officials, local education authorities and other agencies to help streamline material sent to schools.

But the Assembly government alone has just published a list of more than 60 documents it intends to send out to schools this term. One consultation document on pupil inclusion - sent out recently to a 10 per cent sample of schools - was 198 pages long.

The National Union of Teachers Cymru says the new body is simply a gimmick and has had minimal impact on reducing workload. "Many teachers haven't even heard of SWAP, and those that have would laugh almost hysterically at the proposition that it is cutting their workload," said Gethin Lewis, secretary of NUT Cymru.

"As well as all the paperwork spewing out of printers with the latest directives, teachers are also being bombarded with countless emails and are in danger of sinking under it all."

But John Hopkins, chair of SWAP and head of Gwernyfed high school near Brecon, said the panel was influencing the way documentation was produced.

"Our members have been working with agencies to help them design policy initiatives in a more user-friendly way, and to understand how they affect teachers," he said. "We are trying to reduce the burden on teachers and allow them to focus on teaching."

But certain issues, like the special-needs agenda and "burgeoning health and safety bureaucracy", were still problems faced by schools, Mr Hopkins said.

"There's growing concern about the amount of work that has to be done, such as risk assessments. None of us wants to risk children's safety but we mustn't lose sight of the real purpose of education."

The pound;60,000-a-year panel is made up of six school staff from across Wales, including three heads, a deputy head, a teacher and a school secretary.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers, said members were pleased the panel had been set up but now expected more documentation to be filtered through it.

"Now that the body is properly established we would expect it to carry out routine assessments of any documents or policy initiatives that affect teacher workload, whether they come from the Assembly or other agencies. If a policy initiative is drawn up we want SWAP to assess it and, if it makes a big impact on workload, to send it back."

A spokeswoman for the Assembly government said: "We have worked closely with the SWAP team since it was established last year. We value its input and acted on its suggestions as to how policies and initiatives might be streamlined and implemented in schools with minimal bureaucracy. We have also begun to put in place mechanisms to ensure that workload considerations are an integral part of the development of policy for schools."

SWAP's first annual report is due to be published at the beginning of October.

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